10 St Huberts Road, Coldstream, VIC
03 9739 0666
The ability to evolve and adapt has formed the course of history since the dawn of time. Survival is predicated on the simple concept that one must change when the circumstances dictate it. Whether it is a Woolly Mammoth or a cockroach, Darwin’s famous theory applies to us all. But this primal fact does not exist solely in the wild. We have borrowed its principles to shape several aspects of life, including agriculture and business.
The Napoleone family has taken heed of nature’s lessons since the first apple tree was planted in its orchards in the 1940s. The late Michael Napoleone, following the lead of pioneers before him, established Red Rich Fruits in 1948 and began the successful agriculture operation. The proceeding years witnessed the company grow to be one of the largest apple and stone fruit producers and wholesalers in Australia. Yet that success did not create comprehensive contentment for the Napoleones. They understood the need to evolve along the way.
With the resurrection of viticulture in the Yarra Valley in the 1960s, the family took notice and planted vines on their Coldstream property. With its agricultural portfolio diversified, Red Rich Fruits continued to display a green thumb with the cultivation of wine grapes. That talent, as well as the quality of fruit from its vines, attracted neighbouring winemakers, who the Napoleones supplied with grapes until they decided to progress yet again.
In 1999, with the addition of a modern winery, the family began producing a wide array of wines from its abundant vineyards. Punt Road Wines was established and renowned winemaker Kate Goodman arrived to direct the oenology operations. Providing another skilled hand, Assistant Winemaker Behn Payten was brought on board in 2001 and has helped create the success the winery now enjoys. In addition to gaining first-hand experience at Punt Road, Behn has also developed his winemaking talents in France, Spain, and Germany. He also earned a Bachelor of Applied Science in Oenology during that time. And that period witnessed Behn’s role in the continued evolution of the business.
In 2008, the company took a different view of the fruits being harvested from the hanging limbs on its 250 hectares. Combining the fermentation knowledge of its winery with the delectability of its apples and pears, Behn began making a variety of ciders. The practice was hardly new in the Yarra Valley. In the early 1930s, Captain George McGowan selected the area for cider production and used the existing orchards to serve weekend motorists. The new beverage caught on quickly and Captain McGowan enjoyed three decades of success before selling the business in 1961. Darren Kelly then carried the torch for cider production in the Yarra Valley, touring Europe to advance his techniques, which resulted in the creation of a “Champagne Cider”. Countless others have made contributions to the growth of the field, including Behn Payten.
Using the wide array of varieties in its orchards, Behn has introduced new practices to cider making such as barrel fermentation and bottle fermentation. His innovation can be seen in each of the company’s offerings. The Apple Cider, made from Fuji, Sundowner, Granny Smith, and Pink Lady varieties, is fermented with a variety of Rhone Valley white wine yeast. That unique strain is also used in the Pear Cider, created from Packham’s Triumph and Beurre Bosc pears. Behn also makes a cider which combines apples and pears, resulting in unique complexity and flavors. Lastly, Behn utilizes the traditional bottle fermentation technique of making champagne to create a sparkling pear cider (methode traditionelle).
Now, after more than 60 years since the original apple tree was planted, the Napoleone family prepares for the next adaptation in its evolution. No one knows what form that may take but if history serves as an example, it will likely be delicious.